closing

The On-ramp and the Off-ramp.


As sometimes happens in our sales workshops, someone in the group tossed out a brilliant metaphor the other day. If I could remember who said it I’d give him or her the credit.  (If it was you, please go ahead and raise your hand to claim it – you deserve the notoriety!) With a little embellishment and polish from me, here it is.

A sales call or meeting is like a drive on the highway. The two most critical moments – the only ones that matter, really – are the on-ramp and the off-ramp. Survive these and the rest of the trip will take care of itself.

If you want your team to be terrific, make them specific. Speaking directly to customer needs is good business, and all it takes is a plan and some discipline. A strategic digital sales workshop with Doug Weaver and Upstream Group is easier and more cost-effective than you’d imagine. Reach out now. The consult is free.

Let me explain. The opening of your meeting – the on-ramp – is when you create a strong environment, set the agenda and truly engage and involve your customer. (Or… not.) Like the act of merging onto a busy highway, this moment demands that you be alert and decisive. You must speed up and create momentum while very intentionally finding your spot. At the very moment when this kind of decisive action is called for, too many sellers dawdle and meander through the opening of the call, wasting time and squandering trust with meaningless small talk.

Then there’s the end of the call – the off-ramp. This is the part of your journey that calls for careful braking… the part where you slow it all way down. This is the moment in the sales call where the thoughtful seller picks up most of the good information – where she truly qualifies both the buyer and the opportunity; where she identifies hidden decision makers and learns how she might get the deal done. But it’s at this exact moment when slow, deliberate and careful are warranted that many sellers speed up and rush through the close. As a result, they don’t ask for the sale and never get the chance to ask any of the important questions that follow – questions that could open up possibilities and close business.

The answer is surprisingly simple. Have a plan and practice it.

To hit your on-ramp at just the right speed, do some research and create one slide with a few headlines about your customer. Show the customer that slide and – before you say or do anything else – get them talking about it. You will immediately frame your meeting squarely around client needs while also immediately bringing them into a collaborative conversation.

For the off-ramp, write out and practice the question you’ll ask at the end of the meeting; a question that contains a verb (e.g. budget… approve… recommend…), a number (the amount you’re asking for) and a date (to activate the program, a start date, for the next commitment to be made). Role-playing the questions that follow (Tell me about how that decision will be made… Setting aside the outcome, is this something you’d personally like to see happen? … What other budgets might contribute to something like this?) is one of the very best ways a manager can support his sellers.

Open your calls quickly and decisively. Close them slowly and thoughtfully. And watch your numbers improve.


Things We Say Instead of Selling.


In the dozens of sales workshops I lead every year I can’t help but get hung up on the words. Specifically, all of the non-sales language that erstwhile sellers get stuck on. While they might never actually come out and say Please don’t buy anything from me today, these anti-selling clichés may be the next best thing.

We just hope you’ll keep us top of mind. This is the perfect ending to a sales meeting with no purpose and no agenda. Like Brigadoon or Shangri-La, Top of mind is a beautiful but non-existent place. Buyers today are stretched thin: if you don’t have an urgent sales agenda, they sure won’t either.

This is just an introductory callYou’ve just told me that you can do me absolutely no good in the important half hour you’re about to subtract from my life. You’re either immediately useful to me or you’re irrelevant. And you’ve just chosen irrelevance.

Is your sales team describing instead of selling? You win business one serious, well-planned meeting at a time. Can your team do that? A strategic digital sales workshop with Doug Weaver and Upstream Group is easier and more cost-effective than you’d imagine. Reach out now. The consult is free.

Can we talk about next steps? This is what we say when we don’t want to directly ask the customer to buy from us or commit to anything. In spite of what may have been a very good and persuasive call, this is the kind of question that lays on the table like a dead fish and tells the client you’re not all that sure about, or committed to, your product.

Let’s touch base in the next few weeks. There’s just so much wrong here. It’s the verbal equivalent of awkwardly backing out of the room. You’re telling the customer I know you’re not interested and I’m going to save embarrassment for both of us.

Let me send you more information. Great plan!  If we’re not talking about me buying something from you today then perhaps your ninja writing skills will do the trick. Because we all know how much customers love to pour over documentation and product description.

Today’s buyers have more ways to keep us away than ever before. If you’ve been lucky enough or diligent enough (or if your product is good enough) to have earned an in-person meeting or a scheduled phone appointment, it probably means you’ve got some kind of shot. Why waste it with lazy, ineffective language that lets the air out of the room?

Real sales is about persuasion, and the language of sales is the language of commitment. Practice asking questions that contain verbs like recommend, approve and budget. Then ask even more questions that either advance the sale or tell you why it’s not happening. To do anything less is to cheat your employer, your customer and yourself.


One More Question…


You’ve been with the customer for close to 40 minutes. From your perspective, the meeting has gone well. You got through all your recommended products and background and the customer seemed engaged throughout… she even asked some really great questions. All seems positive and optimistic.

And then you say… So, what do you think our next steps are ?

And then she says… Give us some time to get our direction and budgets aligned. Maybe in the meantime you can write some of this up and send it to me?

And just like that… it all goes away. Once again, you’ve ended up in the friend zone. You’ve had a polite, inoffensive, inconclusive call that will not lead to any kind of business commitment. It didn’t have to be this way.

Is your sales team describing instead of selling? You win business one serious, well-planned meeting at a time. Can your team do that? A strategic digital sales workshop with Doug Weaver and Upstream Group is easier and more cost-effective than you’d imagine. Reach out now. The consult is free.

What if instead, you’d asked… So, Jen, based on our discussion, will you recommend this program to the client for $800K and a Q1 activation?

She might still have said something like… Well, I don’t know yet. We’re still waiting to see what the budget will look like.

And then you could have said… Can you tell me more about the budgeting process? How are you feeling about it this year? Does the client seem like he’ll be thinking expansively?

Or… If the budgets come in at a reasonable level, can you tell me how the decision to move on this would happen?  Who’d be involved in making that call?

Or… I know there’s more work to be done. How do you feel personally about the idea? Is it something that you think makes sense for the client?

The initial closing question – the one about $800K in Q1 – may sound abrupt to the ears of the average seller. This may be because of Impostor Syndrome — not feeling like you deserve to ask it. Or because your meeting was just a recitation of your company and your products and there was really nothing to ask for.

But it may also be because you misunderstand the real purpose of closing. We don’t ask a firm closing question because we expect the customer to say yes. We ask it because we want to get to all the other questions… the ones that qualify the opportunity… that help us understand the decision process… that identify other decision makers… and that give insights into the opinions and motivations of the person across the desk.

There’s always one more question to ask. The quality and value of your sales calls depends on how they end. That’s why they call it closing.


The Sale You Save.


Among the sales teams I work with, the list of symptoms is remarkably consistent:  long, unstable sales cycles; buyers going radio silent after receiving proposals; small deal sizes; low close rates; too many small ‘tests’ that lead nowhere; lack of pipeline visibility; weak forecasting.

Sound familiar?  The symptoms are so consistent because they all stem from the same disease.  Your sellers aren’t closing.  This may sound simplistic, and your senior sellers might even take exception with my diagnosis, but look a little closer and you’ll see that I’ve actually got it right.

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Closing isn’t a cliché, nor is it just a general attitude or posture on a sales call.  It’s a very specific event within the discussion; a direct question that either does or doesn’t get asked.  But rather than guess about whether your sellers are closing or taking their word for it, take this simple test.

  1. When you ask your team members about their upcoming sales calls, do they often use words like education and evangelism?
  2. Do they talk about seeing how the customer feels about the program or opportunity?
  3. Is the program or package in question attached directly to an urgent business problem?
  4. Does it have a specific expiration date attached to it?
  5. Is there a specific dollar figure attached to your recommendation? (Instead of just a range of options and levels.)

If your answers tended toward yes, yes, no, no and no, then you’ve got a closing problem.  Your seller is choosing (consciously or otherwise) a comfortable, non-confrontational conclusion to the meeting.  They’re telling the customer to please consider it or lamely offering to touch base again soon to see what you guys want to do.  They’re saying anything and everything besides asking the question that will improve all your business metrics.  Will you buy this from us?

Here’s an exercise you can do with your team that will start to immediately improve the situation.  As your sellers prepare to go on their next sales calls, ask Exactly what are we asking this customer to do?  and What’s the specific price tag or estimate you’re going to give them?   Now sit down across from your seller and role play:  have them ask you for the order in the exact words they would use with the client.  Is this going to be an uncomfortable moment?  Absolutely.  But if they can’t say the words to you, they damn sure can’t say them to the customer.

Comfortable, inconclusive meetings are a luxury you can no longer afford.  Ask your sellers the hard questions today so they can start asking your buyers hard questions tomorrow.  And be sure to let me know how it goes.

This Drift was originally posted in 2014.  And our sellers still aren’t closing. We’re now booking workshops for second quarter 2019.  If you you think I can help you or your team, visit our site or reach out to me directly.


The Happy Heisman.


Every advertising sales boss in history has pushed every advertising seller to reach and persuade more senior customers.  Don’t get stuck with the transactional buyers, they say.  I want you seeing clients and the people who run accounts at the agency.  So the sellers dutifully arrange those meetings: they prepare, they research, they drop names, they bring in the big guns from their own organizations.  And too often, something unexpected happens.

Nothing.

Well, actually it doesn’t feel like nothing when it’s happening.  What it feels like is progress.  It feels like the client likes you and supports the idea.  It feels like they really want to see it happen.  It feels like you’re getting a benevolent recommendation for further action on your program.  What you’re really getting is the Happy Heisman.

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Many sellers of a certain age can identify with getting the Heisman, being pushed away or deflected by the customer.  (As illustrated by the pose of the famous Heisman Trophy, of course.)  When the client or senior agency director says Be sure the team sees this or Once we have budget we’ll take a look at this, they’re really just giving you a soft exit.  There’s no real upside for them to say This will never happen… that would just invite a longer conversation.  A much safer bet to offer gaudy good wishes as you leave the conference room.

It doesn’t have to end like this.  A couple of strategic changes can help.

What exactly did you ask for?  If you didn’t know precisely what you wanted this client to do at the end of your meeting, they’re not going to figure it out for you.  If you’re asking her to recommend your program or approve the budget for it, you need to ask questions using those specific verbs. 100% of questions that go unasked go unanswered.

Not so fast… The very moment when a client says something supportive is exactly when most sellers stop selling.  But it’s actually when you should start. Ask the client to stay with the deal.  I appreciate your support on this.  But when someone in your position steps away it’s too easy for the wheels to come off.  May I keep you involved? Can I connect with you every other week to see that this is moving forward?  You’ll know quickly how committed or serious this customer really is.

Go big.  Big decision makers want to make big decisions.  Too often we bring a junior agenda to a senior meeting.  The client really doesn’t give a shit about whether you get on the media plan or not.  Make sure that your solution is level appropriate and makes the marketer or agency better, and isn’t just an improvement to the plan or CPM.

And remember, the opposite of yes isn’t no.  The opposite of yes is anything other than yes.